Several things seemed to happen all at once. There was the ringing at the door, loud and sudden, followed by Ahme's warning, "Don't answer it! It can only be Clang!"
John looked over his shoulder, curious, squinting at the colored glass in an attempt to make out the shadows that darted to and fro just beyond it. He shrugged it off, unconcerned. Very expensive English door, that was. It would take more than a handful of angry Easterners to break it in. It wasn't until he turned back around that his curiosity dipped into something akin to worry – his eyes had instinctively moved to Paul's for validation, for a silent nod of agreement that they weren't truly in any danger, but…
Paul was no longer there.
The banging increased in intensity, the door rattling perilously as the cultists yelled incoherent babble at each other. All John could pick out from it were the muffled, exuberant cries of "Kaili!"
"Where's Paul gone?" John pushed himself up a little straighter, looking around the room. It was possible that Paul had off and left them, hidden himself away like the right coward he could be on occasion. But the others were calling for him, too, looking down in alarm, Ahme's mouth hanging open in a perfect picture of guilt.
Then there was the suit, of course. It was Paul's suit, obviously, laying there empty across the bed where Paul had been sitting. George had the sleeve in his hand, peering into it. "Come on, Paul, stop messing about," he coaxed, and John got up in alarm, moving to the floor.
The syringe was lying there inconspicuously, and John scooped it up, lifting it to his nose. It carried the distinct smell of foreign herbs and spices, all very pungent and sinister. He knew it. It had been a mistake to trust Ahme after all – he wondered vaguely if George had gotten a chance to ask about the insurance yet.
"It's his best suit!" bemoaned Ringo. John squinted hard at the floor – there was only one solution. If all that nasty serum had been injected into their Paul, then it only made sense that it had shrunk him.
"Where are you, Paul?" John asked gently. They'd left an ashtray on the floor and John picked it up carefully and moved it aside. The dosage contained in the syringe was supposed to only be enough to shrink Ringo's finger, and Paul was just slightly more than finger-sized, really, so maybe he wouldn't be so tiny as to be completely invisible. Like a little bacteria or some such.
The banging at the door grew louder, followed by a distinct rattling of the lock. "Look out, they're coming through the door!" George cried, leaping from the bed to hide along the wall. Ahme slipped away like a snake in the grass, and John had half a mind to follow her and give her a piece of his mind large enough to choke on. But he had to look after the others – had to find Paul.
Ringo flopped on the floor to hide under the bed and John seized up in alarm. It was too easy to imagine Paul getting crushed, reduced to no more than a bloody smear on the front of Ringo's suit. John's hands curled into fists. "You fool," he snarled, and that's when he saw it: the little Wrigley's gum wrapper, sliding across the floor seemingly on its own accord.
John dropped down in an instant, his chin on the ground. Paul blinked up at him, clad only in the gum wrapper, tiny and near hidden behind his oversized shoe.
"Well, there you are!" John declared, relief coursing through him. The gust of his breath made Paul flail backward, his arms pinwheeling for balance. "Why didn't you say something? Had us worried sick, you naughty boy."
Paul's answer – if he answered at all – was drowned out by the deafening sound of shattering glass, followed by triumphant screams of, "Kaili!" Paul was gesturing wildly, hopping up and down and pointing over John's shoulder.
John held out a hand. "Come on, then, quickly."
Paul clambered into his hand, holding onto to the lines between the joints of John's fingers for support. He weighed little more than a moth, his presence barely there as he crawled along the path of John's middle finger to sit on his palm.
Pushing himself to his feet and keeping his hand aloft, John pranced out of the way of a cultist George had managed to wrestle to the floor, landing with a thud where he and Paul had just been. Paul clung to John's thumb like a lifeline, and John came to the very rapid realization that this wasn't ideal for either of them. With his free hand, he took the pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and tossed them aside, depositing Paul into the now-empty space.
He held the pocket open with his index finger, peering down at his shrunken friend, who was rolling in a futile attempt to keep the gum wrapper in place around his body. "Now, you stay in there," John told him. He started to close the pocket, but an idea struck him. "Do you want a ciggie?" Paul shook his head, flinching as a new wave of shattering glass and yells filled the room. "No? You sure? Okay then." John pressed the pocket closed and gave it a light, reassuring pat.
He was distracted by the sound of a cultist charging his way, yelling menacingly. In one swift movement, John grabbed at a lamp and struck him with it, knocking the attacker to the floor. Leaping over the flailing limbs, John tried to make his way toward Ringo, who was being cornered by a cultist with a paint can. He was stopped before he could make it more than a few steps, a pair of hands grabbed him from behind. John whirled around, swatting at his assailant.
George dove in to help him, his hands finding their way around John's neck in the process. "It's me, you fool," John gasped. George stuttered out an apology and released him, smoothing out the front of John's suit.
John leaned away. "Careful," he chided. "Paul's in there."
George gaped at him, relief washing over his features. "You found Paul?"
"He's here." John pulled his pocket open and George leaned in for a look.
"'Allo, Paul. Want a cigarette?"
"He doesn't," John told him.
John peered into his pocket. Paul frowned up at him, arms folded across his bare chest, the wrapper looped around his waist like a towel. "Gum, Paul?"
Paul shook his head vehemently, John's pocket visibly wiggling with the motion. "All right, all right. Ungrateful sod." To George, he added, "I'll have some gum."
"Ringo has it."
Their eyes locked, going wide with dawning horror.
"Ringo!" George called, pushing himself off the floor. John followed along behind after closing his pocket, but it was too late. Ringo was splashed in red paint, standing there sobbing quietly over his ruined suit, surrounded. All they had to do now was slaughter him, jolly, with a knife. That seemed to be exactly what they had in mind – one of the cult members drew out a sword and began his approach, rushing toward Ringo.
A gunshot rang through the tense silence and John jumped in surprise, his hand landing protectively over his pocket. The cult members turned and ran, leaving Ringo blessedly unharmed. Professor Foot let himself in, followed by Algernon, waving his gun around importantly.
"Up!" he commanded, "up, up, up!"
The Beatles clustered together, tripping over the mess of their house, hands held up in surrender. John, however, kept one held over his pocket, and he could feel Paul shifting inside of it.
"Which one has the ring?" Foot demanded.
"That one, sir!" Algernon cried, pointing at Ringo. "You remember, the one with the large ned."
"Neb," Ringo drawled, tapping at his nose. "And it's yours, it's yours!" He made to remove the ring and Foot pointed the gun.
"Keep your hands up!"
"Typical," Ringo sighed. "How can I get it off with me hands held up?"
Paul chose that moment to poke his head out of John's pocket, looking around curiously. John stared down at him in alarm, poking the top of Paul's head in an attempt to shove him back down into the safety of the pocket. Professor Foot's eyes, however, had already locked on him, widening in wicked glee.
He approached slowly, bending down for a closer look. John's muscles tensed, his focus trained on the gun. The hand he still held in the air curled slowly into a fist.
"Why, Algernon," Foot breathed, in awe. "Is that – could it be?"
"It is, sir," Algernon said, nodding eagerly. "A Lilliputian, straight from the miniature isle of Lilliput. I thought it was just a story, but..." He looked up at John. "Wherever did you find him?"
"Think of it, Algernon!" Foot clutched his heart, gazing heavenward. "With an army of Lilliputians, I could – dare I say it? – rule the world."
George snorted. "Good luck with that, Lilliputians are a right nasty bunch, aren't they? They'll tie you down and blind you before following orders, I reckon."
Foot regarded him seriously, pursing his lips. "Right. Algernon, my little black bag. We shall have to subdue this miniature beast."
As Foot dug through the bag, John moved slowly backward, edging toward the lamp he'd dropped earlier. He dipped down, keeping his movements careful, gradual, until his fingers slid against the base of it. Paul looked between John and Foot frantically, clutching the material of John's pocket and chewing on his lip.
"Freeze!" Foot demanded, holding the gun aloft. John grabbed the lamp, lifting it above his head in preparation to strike, and Foot pulled the trigger.
There was a short, high-pitched shriek that may have come from Paul, or maybe it was just the ringing in John's ears. He stood there for a moment, frozen, his body numb as his mind scrambled to assess for injuries. He lowered the lamp slightly, frowning, and he reached toward his pocket. Paul was still there, and under him, John's heart continued to beat in a panicked frenzy.
"Get out," he snarled.
Foot glared at the gun as if it had betrayed him. "British, you see. Useless! If I had a Luger, huh… There are scientists who are properly equipped, eh? Huh? Think on it." He moved toward the door, reaching a hand behind himself to open it. "The remedy is in your hands. You! The voters!" And then he was gone, slamming the door behind him and Algernon.
John sat down on the bed, breathing out a sigh of relief.
"Bloody fortunate, that was," George said, unlit cigarette bobbing between his lips. He pulled out a lighter, flicking it determinedly.
"I knew that lamp would come in handy one day." Ringo looked to John, who had dipped his fingers into his pocket. "What're you diggin' about for?"
"It's Paul," George informed him.
"Aww." Ringo slumped down on the bed, disappointed. "I'd hoped you really had a Lilliputian."
John carefully lifted Paul out of his pocket, holding him in his cupped palms. "He's still small," he said, dismayed. "How long d'you suppose it'll last?"
George slid the defective lighter back into his pocket, pouting. "The effect is purely transitory."
"Means it wears off very quickly," Ringo supplied. He held out his lighter for George, who leaned in, puffing gratefully on his cigarette. Ringo lit up a second one, holding it up cautiously. "Paul?"
Paul nodded eagerly, moving to the edge of John's hand to accept Ringo's offering. He placed his little hands on either side of the filter – the tip of it was as big as his face, but Paul put his mouth to it regardless, sucking in a breath. He broke away with a cough that was barely louder than the buzzing of an insect. John scowled, plucking the cigarette from Ringo and putting it between his own lips.
He looked down at Paul, patting his back with a fingertip. "All right there?" Paul flinched at the sound, covering his ears. John frowned at him curiously. "How's this?" he asked softly, dropping his voice to just above a whisper.
Paul nodded, stifling a yawn in the back of his wrist. He sat down on John's palm, cross-legged, elbows on his knees and chin on his fists.
"Got tiny eardrums, this one," John said smartly, looking to George and Ringo. "Little voices, if you please, lads."
"What about me finger?" Ringo whispered, holding up his hand. The sacrificial ring sparkled menacingly.
John blinked at him. "What about it?"
"I don't want to get sacrificed!"
John hushed him sharply, lifting a finger to his lips. "'Twas your finger what got us into this mess in the first place. Anyway, we've smaller problems at the moment, haven't we?" Paul nodded rapidly, emitting a soft sound that was likely an agreement of some kind.
John smiled at him, lightly touching the tip of his finger to Paul's chin. Paul grabbed at the digit, hanging on it and swinging his legs, the wrapper tied securely around his waist.
"Look at this, he's getting his exercise!"
"That's our Paul," George cooed.
"No, he's just playing," Ringo said. "Must get tiresome, being small."
John snorted. "You'd know, wouldn't you?"
George leaned in for a closer look and Paul let go of the finger, staggering in John's palm. "What're we going to do with him?"
John shrugged. "Have to wait until it wears off, I s'pose."
"Shouldn't we leave?" George asked. "For Ringo's sake? Everyone knows we're here now."
"Can't leave with Paul like this. He'd never make it through customs."
"I was looking forward to sleeping in me own bed," Ringo mused. He crossed to his section of the house, sitting down on his bed reverently, stroking his hands along the duvet. "The cultists wouldn't risk coming back tonight, will they?"
"I hope not," George relented, migrating toward his own bed.
"You'll be better in the morning," John whispered to Paul. "Probably. Want to sleep it off, son?" Paul nodded, stretching his arms over his head. "That settles it, then. You," he said, turning his attention to Ringo, "we'll deal with tomorrow."
Ringo, however, had already curled up in his bed, his back to them.
"Right," John said. "Night, lads."
Goodnights were exchanged in the darkened room, though there was a distinct silence where Paul's input should be. John placed Paul on his pillow, looking at him with a small frown as he laid down his head.
"Night, Paul," he whispered. Paul smiled at him softly, though John could barely make out the expression on his little face. Paul laid his hands comfortingly on tip of John's nose, and in the silence, John could barely make out the high-pitched, "Goodnight, John."
John had always been somewhat proud of his ability to sleep through anything and everything. It never took him long to drift off, and it would take an army to wake him before his scheduled time. Tonight, however, he couldn't sleep.
He laid there with his eyes closed, though he felt as wide awake as if it were midday, nerves prickling in his chest the way they do in the hours before a gig. He wanted to turn over, maneuver himself into a more comfortable position – his right side was growing hot, the arm he'd shoved under the pillow tingling numbly. He couldn't move; he was too afraid. That was the whole problem.
His eyes slid open, focusing easily now that they'd adjusted to the darkness. Paul was there, curled up on the edge of the pillow, snuggled up in a clean, silken handkerchief, his makeshift gum wrapper outfit folded neatly to the side. He was sound asleep from the look of him, breathing evenly, as if completely unaware John could roll over at any moment and crush him.
John didn't trust himself not to. It wouldn't be on purpose, of course, but it wasn't as though he could bloody well control his movements while he slept.
He'd just have to stay awake. Shifting carefully onto his back and lacing his hands across his chest, John stared up at the ceiling, resolute.
It was going to be a long night.
It took a few hours before John began to feel himself dozing, his eyes rolling back and his eyelids drooping. He caught himself with a start, jerking awake with a gasp and forcing his eyes open. He groaned, reaching to the side of his bed for his cigarettes, lighting one up miserably. This was too much, even for him. He might have to get out of bed entirely if this kept up, occupy himself with some songwriting. After all, his best friend had turned small after being unwillingly injected with a mysterious Eastern potion – there had to be a lyric in there somewhere.
There was a soft scratching sound against the pillow, the tiniest feeling of movement – if John hadn't been so tired, he might have swatted at it, certain there was an insect skittering toward his face. As it was, he couldn't be bothered; let the bloody thing drag him down to the depths of creepy-crawly hell, see if he cared. At least there he'd be able to get some sleep without worrying about who he killed in the process.
"Johnny?" The voice was small but unmistakable. There was a tickling feeling along the shell of his ear, and it occurred to him that Paul had moved closer, was stroking him in a way that was meant to be soothing. "You all right?"
John sighed out a cloud of smoke. It took all his will not to move his head – Paul was right there. Staying still was essential. "Just fine, son," he whispered, though it seemed conspicuously loud in comparison. If he didn't know better, he'd think he was talking to himself, Paul's voice no more than a figment of his imagination. It wouldn't be the first time. "Get back to sleep."
"Can't." There was a slight tugging at John's hair and he flinched, though it didn't rightfully hurt. It moved up, and up, until –
John frowned. "What're you doing?"
"Climbing," Paul responded matter-of-factly, his voice drifting somewhere from the vicinity of John's forehead. He felt the gum wrapper drag across his skin as Paul padded across his brow.
"Dunno." Paul sighed, a soft whistling of a sound. He took a seat on the middle of John's forehead, his legs stretched out along the bridge of his nose. It was, in truth, one of the most irritating feelings John had ever experienced, his face scrunching up slightly against his will. Paul swatted him. "Be still, would you?"
"You're not making it easy." John lifted the cigarette to his lips carefully, sucking down a soothing mouthful of fumes. "What d'you want, anyway?"
"Hold that up here," Paul commanded, in lieu of an answer.
John obeyed, feeling rather ridiculous lying there in bed at some indecent hour, holding a cigarette to his forehead. "Careful," he warned, though Paul choked anyway. He sighed. "What did I tell you? Big cigarette for big men, this is."
When he was answered with silence, John pursed his lips, crossing his eyes in an attempt to actually look at Paul. All he could see was a dark, blurry shape between his eyes. "Paul?"
"What if I'm stuck this way forever?"
"Why, I'd make you a little habitat in a jar. Poke some air holes, stick in some porn mags, carry the whole thing around in me pocket."
Paul's laugh was barely audible, but it made John smile just the same. There was the gentle feeling of fingers combing through his eyebrows and John's eyelids fluttered sleepily.
"I am, too. 'twould be a luxury travel suite." He paused for a moment, smoking. "You're my best mate, Macca," he said sincerely. "We'd find a way."
They fell quiet and John stubbed out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray, stifling a yawn in his fist. Paul made a soft sound, shifting against John's forehead.
"Sleep, Johnny." His tone had softened so that John could barely hear him.
It was tempting. Paul's presence on his forehead had gone from irritating to comfortable, the continued motion of fingers stroking his brow strangely soothing. In this position, though, with Paul actually on his face – it was more dangerous than before.
"Not so tired, really," he lied smoothly. He may have imagined the following sound of Paul's disbelieving snort. "Might get up and find something to eat."
"I could go for a pud," Paul mused.
"Don't know if we'll have enough food for the both of us."
"Now that you're a giant."
"Wish you wouldn't point that out. I'm very sensitive about it, you know." John lifted his hand and Paul crawled into it without any further prompting, as if they'd been doing this for years.
They made their way across the room in silence and John procured a couple of sandwiches from the vending machine. Paul stood on the table with his, picking it apart with his hands and tearing off bite-sized crumbs. John watched him in a detached way; it was like seeing a dream play out before his eyes. The fatigue didn't help.
"Suppose Ringo does get sacrificed," Paul said.
John started, blinking out of his reverie. Paul was tugging at a particularly stubborn piece of crust, and John helped him break it loose. "We'd have to learn to play a trio," he said simply.
"Won't be any good without drums, will we?"
"That's why it's a sacrifice, innit? Doesn't count if it's not a loss."
Paul grinned up at him, pausing to adjust the wrapper around his body. His smile gave way to something like a frown, his brows knitting together. "John?"
"If this doesn't – if I don't go back to normal soon, d'you suppose you could make me a proper outfit?"
John stared at him. "What for? You smell refreshingly of spearmint."
"Won't last, will it? Once the scent fades off I'll just smell like Paul."
"Not inherently a bad thing, that," John said, shrugging. He finished off his sandwich, licking at his thumb. "Yeah, I'll make you something. Not exactly a miniature seamstress, mind."
Paul held out his arms, revealing how tatty the wrapper had already become. "I reckon anything's better than this."
John pinched at the wrapper, catching a corner of it, and Paul screeched indignantly, slapping at his fingers. "Don't!" he howled, laughing, clutching the wrapper around him like a woman in a bathrobe. "Stop it, John!"
John lifted an eyebrow, keeping his hold on the wrapper. "Not like I've never seen you naked before."
"Yeah, but this is – why do you want to see me naked?"
John shrugged. "Well, you're little now, aren't you? Just curious."
"And you're huge," Paul countered, fidgeting in John's grasp. "But I'm not asking for a peepshow."
"You could, if you wanted." John released him, holding up his hands innocently.
After smoothing out the new crinkles in his wrapper, Paul sat down on his unfinished sandwich. He gazed up at John, resting his chin in his hands. "Too scared to look, honestly. Your dick is bigger than me now."
"Always has been, son, you just never paid attention."
Paul opened his mouth to respond, though it snapped closed almost immediately. It may have just been John's eyes, but in the low lighting, it looked like Paul's cheeks had turned slightly red. John cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"Y'want anything else?" he asked. Paul shook his head and John nodded in acknowledgement, stifling another yawn in his fist.
John's free hand was lying on the table and Paul approached it cautiously, laying his hands on John's thumb. "John," he said softly. John leaned down to hear him better. "Get some sleep. Please."
"Can't," John admitted, too tired now to pretend otherwise. He laid his head on the table, gazing sleepily at Paul. "Don't want to wake up to find I've crushed you." He lifted his index finger, stroking the side of it along Paul's chest, as if petting a bird.
"Oh, Johnny," Paul sighed, affectionately exasperated. "Just put me in my own bed, you twit."
John shook his head slowly against the table, his eyelids drooping perilously. "Don't want to lose you," he mumbled. "Misplace you, I mean. Don't want–" he broke off, yawning, "– the bloody cultists to come back and smash you to bits."
Paul sighed, rubbing his hand over John's knuckle. "Place me on a shelf, then."
"And if you fell?"
"Would you promise to be true?"
John snorted, nuzzling his face against the table as if it were a pillow. "I'll flick you off this bloody table, I swear on me mum."
Paul chuckled, propping his elbows against the back of John's hand. "You wouldn't dare."
"I would. It'd solve all my problems, too."
"I don't think you'd've looked out for me this much if you were just going to flick me away in the end. Almost took a bullet for me, you did. Like me too much to get rid of me, admit it."
John smiled sleepily, trying hard to keep his swimming vision focused on Paul. "Mm. I do."
Paul stopped smiling abruptly, gazing at him with an expression John couldn't quite make out. Then, slowly, his arms hooked around John's finger, hugging it close. He murmured something, the words muffled against John's skin. John grunted.
Paul looked up at him, his chin resting on John's finger. "Said I've gotten plenty of sleep. It's your turn. I'll stay awake, if it'll make you feel better."
John hummed his assent, and when his eyes sealed shut, it was bliss. He was only vaguely aware of Paul's voice, a soft buzzing in the distance telling him, "hey, no, not here – c'mon, baby, that'll do a number on your back and you know it."
He must have dozed off for a bit, though every now and then he was vaguely aware of the feeling of Paul crawling over his hand or poking at his face, punctuated with moments of peaceful nothingness. There were vivid dreams that seemed to last a small lifetime.
In most of them, Paul remained small, stuck that way forever. He'd have the little habitat John had promised, though it was made to be an elaborate flat within the jar, complete with fountains and bookshelves and even a little piano. He'd be dressed in little suits, placed on a tall stool in front of a microphone so he could still perform, a tiny bass constructed for him out of toothpicks and dental floss. "The World Famous 'Beatles'," the headlines read, "Now in Authentic Beetle Size!"
In another dream, Paul was himself again, pushing annoyingly close to John's height. He was singing If I Fell and stroking John's eyebrows, looking at him with that cryptic expression that made John's heart soar.
Then there was a sharp pulling at his eyelashes, something physically prying an eye open, and John jerked his head away, startled.
Paul fell backward, splayed against the table, though his expression was more triumphant than injured. John blinked at him in confusion, rubbing at his eye. It was a little lighter than it was when he had put his head down, the beginnings of sunrise painting the room a soft blue. John groaned, stretching his arms above his head, his back cracking in protest.
"I told you, you big sod," Paul said gently. He stood, straightening out his gum wrapper. "When will you ever learn to listen?"
"You're still small," John noted, belatedly.
Paul rolled his eyes. "C'mon, off to bed with you. Pick me up."
John opened his hand and Paul boarded it with a casual ease, like a prince in his royal chariot. John felt as if he were sleepwalking as they moved back to his bed; he must've only slept an hour or so, but it had been deep and heavy, still clinging to him strongly. He deposited Paul gently on the pillow, stretching out beside him.
"Promise to stay awake?" John asked distantly, sleep already beginning to pull him back under.
"Promise." Paul stepped closer, pushing a few stray strands of hair out of John's eyes. "Fully prepared to dodge any flailing limbs."
He stroked Paul's back with a fingertip, just once, before he was out again. This time, he didn't dream – the only thoughts that followed him down were the persistent reminder to be still, no matter what Paul said, be still; and the vague worry that the potion was lasting too long, that Paul really would be stuck this way forever.
After that, it was only dark, restful oblivion.
When John awoke, it wasn't to the sound of his alarm, or the commotion of another break-in. What first caught his attention was a mysterious whoosh-ing sound, followed by a sudden presence on top of him, a warm body draped across him like a blanket. He didn't remember taking a girl to bed, but he couldn't complain. John smiled sleepily, eyes closed, his hands sliding around a warm waist, following the tantalizing line of his partner's back, and –
Well, she was a large girl, wasn't she? Very sturdy. John was surprised to find that he was rather excited by that, his hands grasping at a pair of strong shoulders.
He blinked his eyes open, focusing blearily on the face hovering above his own.
"Morning," Paul whispered. He was smiling wide, completely ecstatic, his cheeks flushed with mirth. It took John a moment to realize why.
"You're big!" he exclaimed. He unwound his arms from Paul's back to grab at his face, cupping it between his palms.
Paul laughed, tangling his fingers in John's hair. He'd never looked at John the way he was looking at him now, open and adoring, as if he'd been away a million years. It almost felt like he had been gone – though he'd never left John's side, John hadn't realized how lonely he'd felt, how far away Paul seemed. It must have been worse for Paul, he now realized, isolated in an oversized world.
"God," Paul breathed. "You look… you're so…"
John didn't know which of them moved first, though later he would swear it was Paul. Their lips crashed together with near painful force, Paul licking his way into John's mouth as if he had every right to, as if it were a craving he'd been denied too long. John's arms wrapped around Paul's bare shoulders, squeezing him close, and Paul groaned into his mouth, the hands in John's hair trembling softly. He smelled so strongly of spearmint, his whole body alive with it; John found traces of it on Paul's tongue and moaned with delight, gripping Paul tighter.
The implication, however, caught up with John slowly and his hands drifted downward, curious. His fingertips followed the curve of Paul's spine, the dip of his back, landing finally on the smooth, warm swell of his backside.
"Oh god," John groaned, breaking away from the kiss, his head falling back against the pillow. "You're naked."
Paul hummed in agreement, kissing John's cheek, his neck. "You're not," he observed. He sucked at a sensitive patch of skin under John's chin, making him shiver, sparks of electricity shooting up his spine.
"Fuck, Paul, we can't," John protested weakly as Paul started in on the buttons of his pajama shirt, popping them open with greedy haste. "We're not alone, remember? George and Ringo–"
Paul hushed him, though he stopped his work on the buttons, looking into John's eyes. "It's still early," he whispered. "If we're quiet, they – I just need to feel someone, Johnny, please, you don't know what it's like."
"Someone?" John echoed. He touched Paul's face delicately, tracing the arch of an eyebrow, drifting down along his cheekbone. "Or me?"
"You." There hadn't been a second of hesitation. Paul was giving him that look again, though now John could actually see it clearly. It was sure and vulnerable, loving, and John's chest ached. "It's always been you. I spent all that time afraid that I'd never see you again. Like this, I mean. It was different, being small, and you were some giant, unreachable thing. I never realized how much I needed you, to touch you, just have you near, until I couldn't. I could see you sometimes, in certain moments, but most of the time it was just – it was scary, y'know? You were so big."
John's lips were parted, a million responses resting on his tongue, but he found he couldn't give voice to any of them. Paul's hands dipped inside his shirt, cautiously, slowly, callused hands smoothing along his ribs as Paul searched his eyes. John nodded his consent, leaning up to meet Paul's lips again, their noses crashing together clumsily.
They were as inelegant as a couple of virgins, getting tangled in clothing and laughing into each other's mouths, all knees and elbows and self-conscious red cheeks. Until, finally, Paul was cradled in the spread of John's naked thighs, and they rocked against each other slowly, experimentally, eyes locked in shared wonderment.
Paul dipped down, nudging his nose against John's cheek. "Hold me tight," he whispered, his lips only barely brushing John's skin. "Please, John."
John obeyed in an instant, arms looping around Paul's chest and crushing him against himself. He let go of the mindset of Paul being fragile, a tiny little thing with delicate bird bones – he was full-sized, durable and needy, and John had been held back for far too long. Touch was so important, the only way John could really express himself outside of music, and so he held onto Paul with everything that he had, communicating how much he needed him, missed him, absolutely loved him.
They picked up their pace, bucking against each other frantically, messy and uncoordinated, Paul clutching John's hair and moaning brokenly into his neck. It wouldn't last much longer, it couldn't, not with their movements lubricated with their shared sweat, the way Paul licked hot, desperate stripes against John's skin.
Their lips sealed once more, slippery and desperate, and then it was over. They spilled against each other's stomachs, their quiet sounds swallowed up by gasping mouths. Paul collapsed against John in a heap, giggling contentedly, and John hugged him close, burying his nose in sweat-dampened hair.
A loud, exasperated cry of, "Cut!" interrupted their basking, and John's eyes slid open, gazing upward. Richard Lester glared down at him, hands on his hips, a disapproving scowl on his face.
"What the hell was that? None of that was in the script, none of it!" He waved the thick bundle of pages around for emphasis.
"You try having a naked Paul on top of you, see if you don't end up getting off with him."
"You shouldn't even have a naked Paul on top of you!" Richard flipped back through the script adamantly. "He should have turned back 20 pages ago! Do you have any idea how much film we wasted? This was worse than the – what was it? The 'alternate romantic ending' to A Hard Day's Night?"
"Come on, Richie," Paul said cheekily, batting his eyelids. "We're just having a bit of fun. 'twas an improvement, if you ask me. Very dramatic-like."
John and Paul burst into another fit of giggles, clinging to each other, and Richard threw up his hands. "I give up. I'm done. Get this out of your systems, I want to get something useful tomorrow." He stormed away, muttering about "actual children," "supposed to be professionals," and "don't get paid enough for this shit."
"Okay, people," the producer called from somewhere beyond the cameras. "That's a day wrap, pack it up, let's go."
Left alone on an empty set, Paul pushed himself up onto his elbows. "I really do love you, y'know," he said quietly, stroking one of John's eyebrows with a fingertip. John smiled up at him, his insides like melted butter. Paul returned the look with his toothy, boyish grin. He dipped down, pressing their lips together softly as the lights were shut off around them.
John had never been more content than he was in that moment, Paul soft and warm in his arms, concealed in a comforting blanket of darkness. It was their own little world, so far removed from everything they'd ever known.
"I love you, too," John whispered. Nothing else really seemed to matter.